Born and raised in Manhattan, Zyles grew up playing rock and blues, followed by more formal jazz training. While attending Stanford where he belonged to the jazz orchestra, Zyles spent time studying abroad in China, which was the inspiration behind his newfound musical moniker—Zyles comes from the re-romanization of his Chinese name, 叶子力 (Ye Zi Li). After graduation, while living and working in San Francisco and armed with his experiences working in the tech world, Yellin-Flaherty gave birth to Zyles, a project that is informed thematically by the glory and absurdity of today’s city living, and musically by Yellin Flaherty’s carefully crafted urbane pop.
Unheard Gems/Tatum: What got you into music? Why are you still passionate about it?
Zyles: Music is still my favorite form of expression, and as long I’m experiencing and observing I can’t see it getting old. One feature of music that makes it a particularly versatile artistic form is that on one end of the spectrum you can sit down at an instrument and improvise and on the other you can go record a double album or a symphony. All depends on what’s right for your idea.
I realized this pretty young when I was surrounded by music at home, on the streets in NYC, visiting all the great music halls. Maybe I couldn’t write a symphony, but I could improvise on the guitar and see the path towards those greater projects.
T: What's your songwriting process? Where did you draw your inspiration for "Cuddle Puddle?"
Z: Typically I’ll start with a thematic concept and then sit a piano or guitar, or hum in the streets thinking about where it should start musically. The concept for “Cuddle Puddle” came from this nuts Vanity Fair article about a secretive, morally questionable culture happening in and near where I live in San Francisco. I still haven’t heard any evidence that it’s true, but I recognized the characters it depicts and my imagination ran wild with it. I remember taking a break on the couch at my rehearsal studio and the “Cuddle just the same” theme taking shape.
T: Who are your major influences?
Z: My all-time greats are Prince, Dylan, and Steely Dan. Those are the artists I spent a tremendous amount of time with growing up, learning their songs and in some cases their solos. For each of them, their footprint is wide enough that you can find songs that capture what you’re going through in both a sincere and absurdist way.
These days I’m working on developing a modern pop sound, so I listen to everything with an open mind that I might find something I want to borrow.
T: What are your career goals? Are there any projects you're working on right now?
Z:My biggest goals are all about connecting with a lot of people in a live setting. Dreaming big -- I want to fill up first the Rickshaw Stop, then the Independent, next the Fillmore, and finally make an appearance at Outside Lands. Then there are secondary goals about how that happens -- reaching people across all the platforms, maybe having Jon Caramanica write about me, sitting down on Beats1, reaching those viral Spotify charts.
I’m recording new songs and putting together shows in San Francisco and LA at smaller venues in the meantime. Come see us at the Hotel Cafe in LA Thursday 4/18 and Brick & Mortar Thursday 4/11. (SF date to be confirmed)
T: f you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?
Z: BadBadNotGood is up there. The music they put out for themselves is groovy modern jazz, and they produce for some of the biggest hip hop and R&B acts. I’d be curious what direction we could take some of my tunes. And I imagine all their depth and taste would be an inspiring environment work in.
T: What was the inspiration for the Secretary music video? What was it like filming that video?
Z: I stumbled across the Secretary Problem in a book, and it struck me as an incredibly insightful way of framing big decisions about romance. Comparing dating to interviewing isn’t anything new, but thinking about it in this rigorous way was novel to me. And then from there the imagery just fell into place.
It was my first time doing a video of that scale, and it was so fun. Go watch us dance and you can see why.
T:Who's an "unheard gem" that you would recommend to us?
Z: Check out this groovy Italian Bay Area Funk Band Sonamo.1.
Interview by Tatum Jenkins